Every voice in content design matters

Sarah Winters, , Opinion

This is a plea for more books, podcasts, videos, people on stage at conferences (and not just content conferences) and general chat about our skills.

At the Button Conference, there was some chat about books. Lisa Marie Marquis and Torrey Podmajersky ran a chat for people who were thinking about writing a book but hadn’t started yet. This post is my thoughts on it.

Our skill is our profession’s best kept secret

Copywriter, technical writer, ux writer… It’s hardly surprising people in our industry, but outside our profession, think we just write.

It’s set. It’s set in history. Our subconscious history.

Traditionally, in advertising you had, and often still have, a copywriter and art director who work together. But you have a design that’s already set, you may hire a copywriter alone. To fill in the gaps and boxes.

Writers write for books that are in a set style, a set design. It’s all part of the brand and the words have to fit in so the books are recognisable and consistent.

Journalists write words that go into specific boxes for a publication.

If you said ‘editor’ to most people in the UK, I’d guess they’d all think of a newspaper editor. Words that fit in pre-defined boxes.

See what I mean?

It can’t be a surprise to us that people think we do words and not a lot else.

The rest of the industry

When designers, product owners and service designers go into book shops (digital or physical), they see a multitude of books about development, design, management and writing.

Search for a design podcast and you get hundreds. There are loads of writing podcasts that are specifically for words and the creative art of writing.

Try it for content design podcasts. Despite the best efforts of many who have gone before, and those of us still going, our skills haven’t got into the main consciousness in a way that helps many of us day to day. We are making progress, of course. But we could be doing more. So what is stopping you writing, talking and recording?

“It’s already been said”

I could just say: ‘write efficiently, usefully, effectively, accessibly and inclusively’ and I’ve probably covered all the bases. Useless book though. Boring and ineffectual. Not even a book, is it? Can’t take that to my boss or put it in a presentation. Can’t learn from that. The way we look at things can spark ideas in others. Tell your story in your way.

“No-one knows who I am” or “I am a nobody”

You didn’t know who anyone was until you did. Same with you. We all start somewhere. Podcasts, videos, chats, books. Get started. We work in a beautiful and generous profession. Produce it, make it useful, and we’ll share it.

“People won’t want to hear from me.”

Why not? Your voice, your experience, your examples are the story. The way you speak can give someone a vocabulary to talk about things in a way they haven’t before. There may be people sitting in an organisation just like yours feeling very alone. Your podcast can talk to them, your book can help them.

I haven’t seen one book that is for charity content design alone; looking at the complexities of running digital content next to a marketing department that wants to purely push up donations.

There’s not a single podcast focussed on content designers working directly with service designers. You can find a niche like this and go with it or when you are producing that video script, you’ll find it’s the same for all sectors and your advice spans any digital project.

Lastly, your brain might be telling you, writing a book, producing a podcast or whatever, is too hard. Sure. It’s not easy but you design content for a living. This is just a project.

Your content is a content design project

You know how to do this:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they care about?
  • How are you going to reach them?
  • Structure priorities.
  • Use the language they use.
  • Introduce specialist terms.
  • Make it accessible.

I mean seriously, you do this. My book is structured on post-it notes like a journey. Language, needs, the lot - it is all the same thing.

It’s a lot of hard work

It can be. I self-published my book and while it had its drama, I learnt from it and my second book is drama-free*.

I think it depends why you are doing it.

If it is to be famous: maybe find a publisher or get a social media manager. If it is to be rich: self-publish a book and hire a PR firm.

If it is because you want to help our industry: get on with it.

You don’t need to do an hour-long podcast twice a week. You don’t need to write a tome that includes every nuance of every possibility of content design. It would just be great to create more in the conversation. Get more good stuff out there so we take up a lot of space in the design section of Waterstones. Be equal to our colleagues in adjacent professions.

Whenever I am having a wobble over something I remember: “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will”. This is a collective dream. A collective dream that we don’t have to explain why we think journey mapping and language mapping is a good idea.

So, here’s the thing. Get on with it. Share your thoughts, your voice and your experience.

It’s needed.

*As at 1.11.21. I can’t promise there will be no dramas when my book is finished.

Sign up to our newsletter

Get content design insights sent straight to your inbox.

  • Choose what information you get: (required)